Everything You Need to Know to Plan a Successful Road Trip

Six months ago this week my sister, friend and I set out on a pretty fast paced road trip from Orange County, CA to Connecticut. We had 5 days, 13 states, 4 cases of wine in toe, and one wild night in Nashville ahead of us. But we made it. We had just over a week to plan our cross-country adventure and with myself in the navigation seat, my best friend planning and researching activities along the way, and my sister playing DJ, I think we did pretty well throwing it all together.

A trip this big does require some planning ahead of time, but it also requires a lot of flexibility. For instance, locking my keys in the car in the middle of a rain storm in Arkansas was not really planned (insert palm to face emoji here). I broke this post down into things you need to do before you travel, and what you can do along the way, because let’s face it, you have a lot of free time during a road trip this long.

But these tips and tricks can really work for any road trip, no matter how long or short it is.

Before you Travel:

Map it out, and add time
I used Google Maps to not just look at what cities we were stopping in but also how long we’d be driving each day. Our longest travel days were days 1 and 5, Orange County to Albuquerque and then Knoxville to Connecticut. Both were 11 and a half hours of straight driving. But you aren’t going to be driving straight through. I thought adding an hour or two would be enough, but it absolutely wasn’t. We ended up being on the road for over 16 hours both of these days, making pit stops, stopping for actual meals (you can’t just eat fast food), and just getting out to walk around. The longer your drive, add more time.

Plan your hotels
Being a travel agent, my biggest concern was having a hotel set up each night. I had nightmares about driving through New Mexico with nothing around and only a nasty motel on the side of the road with Norman Bates as the hotel manager. I booked hotels for each night. We stuck with Marriot branded hotels and tried to stay in bigger cities. I feel like Marriott’s brands have a pretty good standard across all of their brands and you know what you’re going to get. Now was not the time to experiment with a $75 a night hotel to save money.

Take care of any car maintenance
Like I said, I had just over a week between planning our trip and leaving. Every day of that week and a half I was packing or getting something done to my car. I got an oil change one day. Another day I got a wheel fixed that I had been putting off for almost 8 months. I even had to reregister my car in California and make sure I had a hard copy of the registration, insurance card, and the phone number for my road side assistance.

Pack your car for the apocalypse
You’ll never have everything you’ll need. We stopped at both Walmart and Target on our drive. Things come up and that’s inevitable, but being as prepared and comfortable as possible is always important. Here is a list of things I found we needed:

*a pillow for that third driver in the back seat
*tissues and TP just in case
*refillable water bottles to fill up before you leave a restaurant or hotel in the morning
*healthy snacks to keep you from pulling over at another fast food restaurant
*blankets for that one person that’s always cold
*jumper cables because you never know

During Travel:

Be overly cautious with gas station stops
I was super paranoid about running out of gas so I tried not to have my tank too far below the halfway mark. This is probably a little aggressive but three girls on the side of the road with an empty tank was in my mind right there with Norman Bates.

Have a back up plan for the radio
My 2012 Sentra isn’t too fancy with XM Radio so when we were going through the Texas panhandle and we had no service, my high school CDs from 2004 really came in handy. (Thank you Jimmy Eat World and Britney Spears) Download some of your favorite podcasts, grab your phone charger and get that crazy static off the radio. A quiet road trip is not fun!

Check the dates of your must-see sights
We really wanted to make a stop at Pioneer Woman’s Mercantile in Pawhuska, OK but did you know they’re closed on Sundays? Do you know what day we were in Oklahoma? Yep. If there’s something you defiantly want to see, make sure you’ll be in that area when they’re open. The city girl in me forgot places close for days of rest. Who knew?

You can check out our road trip details from earlier this year here and here.

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